There is a persistent green myth that coal-fired power generation causes city smogs. It does not.
City air pollution is nothing new. King Edward I complained about London pollution in 1306, as did Queen Elizabeth I in 1578, long before the first steam engine operated.
Let’s look at the causes of some famous smogs – London/Pittsburgh, Los Angeles/Santiago, the Dust Bowls and the Asian Smogs.
The London smogs were caused by open-air combustion of newspapers, wood and cheap high-sulphur unwashed coal in domestic fires, stoves and boilers; by coal-burning blacksmiths, brewers and ironworkers in smoky forges, furnaces and coke plants; and by many smoky steam locomotives; all with inefficient combustion and no pollution controls. The smog was slowly eliminated by clean air regulations and by changing to “clean coal by pipe” (town gas) and “clean coal by wire” (electricity).
The Los Angeles smogs were caused mainly by backyard incinerators, vehicle exhausts and natural air inversions. They were reduced by using cleaner fuels, better engines and compulsory pollution-control equipment. Santiago has undergone a similar clean-up.
The Dust Bowl conditions of the Great Plains in USA were caused by drought and wind erosion of newly cultivated soils. Gobi Desert storms produced the Yellow River and the Yellow Sea and contribute to the Asian Brown Cloud today.
Today’s Asian smogs have many sources – forest fires in Indonesia; open air cremations in India; dust from volcanic eruptions and desert storms; soot, ash and other pollutants from millions of domestic rubbish fires, mosquito fires, cooking fires and heaters using anything combustible – cow dung, wood, paper, cardboard, plastic or cheap unwashed coal; and soot and unburnt hydro-carbons from millions of vehicles, many with engines needing maintenance and no pollution controls. Beijing today combines the 1950’s problems of both London and Los Angeles.
The Asian smog is NOT caused by producing electricity in modern power stations with closed boilers, pollution controls and using high-quality washed coal such as exported by Australia to Asia. The “power station pollution” pictured so eagerly in ABC and Green propaganda is actually steam from the cooling towers.
The main products released by modern coal-fired power stations are water vapour and carbon dioxide – both are essential life supporters. Neither one is dangerous. Both make our climate more liveable, but the contribution of carbon dioxide to climate is tiny. And the carbon dioxide produced by burning coal has done more to encourage the growth of plants and the greening of planet Earth than Greenpeace will ever do.
“Clean coal by wire” into every home is the one thing that could solve much of the Asian air pollution.
Disclosure: Viv Forbes has a science degree and long experience in Australia’s primary industries. He is self-employed, owns a farm and holds shares in a small Australian coal explorer which will benefit when Asia decides to solve their energy and pollution problems using “clean coal by wire”.
Gobi Desert Dust Storms: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=scientists-track-asian-du
Desert Dust, Dust Storms and Climate: http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/briefs/miller_01/
Coal combustion products: http://carbon-sense.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/coal-combustion.pdf
Carbon & Carbon dioxide – Clearing up the Confusion: http://carbon-sense.com/2011/05/02/carbon-dioxide-confusion/